Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reclaimed Creations

Sayaka Ganz is an artist that was born in Yokohama, Japan and grew up living in Japan, Brazil, and Hong Kong. As of now, she teaches design and drawing courses at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). She describes her art as a " passion for fitting odd shapes together and a sympathy toward discarded objects." She creates animal sculptures create animals from thrift store plastics, reclaimed household objects, and scrap metal. Here are some of her amazing sculputures, and you can find more over at her website Reclaimed Creations.

(via ScienceDump and Sayaka Ganz's website)

Friday, July 20, 2012

100 Percent Less Eyes

Taking shrimp eyes off the menu. Thanks BP.

Reflections on Competitive Karting

There's just something really funny about watching my parents go head-to-head in a game of Mario Kart on their Wii. Maybe it has something to do with my mom choosing to play as Princess Peach and my dad driving as Bowser. Or perhaps it is how my mom yells at my dad for bumping her off the track right before she throws a bomb at his kart. I was recently at their house for a visit and threw my Yoshi character in the mix, and we got to talking about how the game brings out our competitive natures. Afterwards, I got curious and looked to see if there was any scientific literature on the competitive compulsion brought out by Mario Kart. The answer is...well, kinda.

In 2011, a study was published by the American Psychological Association that compared video game competition and violence to see which had the greatest influence on aggressive behavior. The topic of violence in video games as it relates to aggressive behavior is not a new one. In fact, there is a comprehensive theory on the association between violent video games and aggression called the General Aggression Model (GAM), which was adapted from past theories of aggression. This model describes "a cyclical relationship between an individual and the environment, in which person variables such as trait hostility, as well as situation variables such as exposure to real-world or media violence (e.g., violent video games), interact to influence an individual's present internal state." This internal state includes cognition (aggressive scripts or hostile thoughts), affect (anger and frustration), and arousal (elevated heart rate or blood pressure). These all act together to influence an individuals aggressive behavior, and violent video games function as a situation variable in this model. However, there is not a consensus as to whether or not there is a relation between violent video game play and aggression. Also, previous studies have not teased apart aggression and competitiveness.

This study defined a violent game as including violent acts such as fighting, shooting, and killing. Competitive acts were those against other players or computer-controlled opponents. The difficulty of the game was defined as how difficult the game was to complete successfully. The game's pace of action was the rate of speed of the action sequences. These four game characteristics were identified as mechanisms that may influence aggressive behavior. Okay, I'm on board with that. You? Next they needed a test to assess aggression. Before reading this study, I was not aware of the Hot Sauce Paradigm, but I'm glad I know it now and love that they used it here. In the Hot Sauce Paradigm, the participant is given an already completed food preference questionnaire and told that it was completed by another participant (who does not like hot/spicy food). They are then given four bottles of hot sauce ranked in terms of hotness and then told to choose one of the four bottles and mix up some hot sauce for the other participant to drink. The amount of hot sauce and its degree of hotness is an indicator of overt aggressive behavior that does not have a competitive benefit.

With these terms and tests defined, the researchers conducted a couple of experiments. In the first experiment they had 42 college students play one of two video games, Conan or Fuel, for 12 minutes. These games are equally competitive and difficult and had a similar pace of action, but they differed in their levels of violence. After playing the game, a student then took the hot sauce test. This test showed no significant difference in the intensity and amount of the hot sauces administered by players of either game, suggesting that video game violence does not elevate aggressive behavior. In a second experiment, the researchers had 60 students play one of four video games: Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe (highly competitive and violent), Left 4 Dead 2 (less competitive violent), Marble Blast Ultra (less competitive nonviolent), and Fuel (highly competitive nonviolent). They found that the participants that played the highly competitive games made significantly more of a hotter sauce than those who played less competitive games, and they had significantly higher heart rates. This suggests that it is the competitive nature of a game, rather than its violence that causes aggressive behavior. However, the mechanisms of this relationship was not explored and needs further study.

If you want to look at the competitive nature itself a little more closely then there is a great study from back in 1995 that looks at cooperation versus competition. In 1993, Morton Deutsch summarized research on the role of competitive circumstances as precursors to destructive patterns relating to violence that is referred to as Deutsch's theory of competition effects. He argues that one way of creating a more peaceful society is to build more cooperation and less competition. Makes sense. People tend to think of competitive situations as more aggressive than cooperative ones. In this study the researchers tested this by giving participants competitive versus cooperative instructions and then having them play Super Mario Brothers. The participants played the game in pairs, and each participant took turns playing the game. When they were told to be competitive their goal was to get their character further in the game than the other participant, with each participant using a different character (Mario or Luigi). When they were told to play the game cooperatively their goal was to get as far in the game as possible together, taking turns playing the same character. After each round of gaming, the participants were then given questionnaires to assess their perception of the video game, that included an interpersonal liking scale, and to assess their hostility/agreeableness mood. The study found that participants in the competitive condition killed 60 percent more enemies creatures in the game than did those participants in the cooperative condition. People in the competitive condition also rated the game as slightly less enjoyable. Interestingly, females reported that they felt more agreeable after playing the cooperative game, whereas males felt less agreeable after cooperative gaming.

At the end of the day, what knowledge to we gain from this? Perhaps it is the same as with most scientific studies: more study is needed. I don't know. I'm not a psychologist. I do know, however, that in our nonviolent, highly competitive games of Mario Kart that there is a lot of laughing along with the bombing, inking, and shelling of our digital counterparts. What do you think?

ResearchBlogging.orgPaul J. C. Adachi and Teena Willoughby (2011). The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence? Psychology of Violence, 1 (4), 259-274 DOI: 10.1037/a0024908

ResearchBlogging.orgCraig A. Anderson and Melissa Morrow (1995). Competitive Aggression without Interaction: Effects of Competitive Versus Cooperative Instructions on Aggressive Behavior in Video Games Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21 (10), 1020-1030 DOI: 10.1177/01461672952110003

(image by Marcin Klicki via CoolVibe)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy Birthday Niki T!

Today is Nikola Tesla's birthday. He was born on July 10, 1856 and died on January 7, 1943. Tesla was an amazing inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, and futurist. He was a huge contributer to the development commercial electricity, and is best known for developing the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system. Tesla's patents and theoretical work also formed the basis of wireless communication and radio, and he even has a unit of measure named after him. He was an incredibly interesting man and inventor and I encourage you to read more about his life and work.

Now, via The Oatmeal...

Perpetual Ocean

The wind map I posted a couple of months ago was pretty popular. If you liked that then you'll love this.

NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio has created an animation called Perpetual Ocean. The visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through December 2007. The goal of this project was to use ocean flow data to create a simple, visceral experience. Mission accomplished.

These visualizations were "produced using model output from the joint MIT/JPL project: Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II or ECCO2. ECCO2 uses the MIT general circulation model (MITgcm) to synthesize satellite and in-situ data of the global ocean and sea-ice at resolutions that begin to resolve ocean eddies and other narrow current systems, which transport heat and carbon in the oceans. ECCO2 provides ocean flows at all depths, but only surface flows are used in this visualization. The dark patterns under the ocean represent the undersea bathymetry. Topographic land exaggeration is 20x and bathymetric exaggeration is 40x." The videos I've posted here are grabbed from YouTube. I highly recommend clicking the links below each video and going to the NASA webpages. There you will find more videos, all designed for a very wide, high resolution display.

This first Perpetual Ocean visualization is of some of the world's surface ocean currents.

Learn more at NASA's Perpetual Ocean website

This next visualization shows the Gulf Stream stretching from the Gulf of Mexico all the way over towards Western Europe. The colors indicate sea surface temperatures in degrees Celsius (blue is < or = to 0, yellow is 17, and red is > or = 33).

See more at the Gulf Stream Sea Surface Currents and Temperatures webpage.

This animation shows "ocean current flows in the Mediterranean Sea and Western Atlantic. The time period for this visualization is 16 Feb 2005 through 16 January 2006. For each second the passes in the visualization, about 2.75 days pass in the simulation. The colors of the flows represent their depths. The white flows are near the surface while deeper flows are more blue." Click the picture to be transported to the video.

These animation can be found in various video forms at the Ocean Current Flows around the Mediterranean Sea for UNESCO webpage

This animation shows sea surface current flows. The flows are colored by corresponding sea surface temperature data. The global sea surface currents have been colored by temperature in the same way as the Gulf Stream video above.

The webpage for this visualization has several videos, many of which are cropped to show only certain parts of the Earth. They can be found at the Global Sea Surface Currents and Temperature webpage and the Flat Map Ocean Current Flows with Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) webpage.

Periodic Car

 I love it!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Meet the NanoPutians

It is always nice to be reminded that science can have a sense of humor. For instance, I know that biology has a long history of naming insects after famous people including movie stars (such as the dolichopodid fly Campsicnemius charliechaplini), writers (like the dinosaur Serendipaceratops arthurclarkei), musicians (such as the trilobites Avalachurus lennoni, A. starri, and Struszia mccartneyi), science educators (like the land snail Crikey steveirwini), and even fictional characters (such as fungus beetle Agathidium vaderi). I think my favorite are the slime mold beetles named after key members in the Bush administration (Agathidium bushi, A. cheneyi, and A. rumsfeldi).

Of course, chemists are also known for their sense of humor when it comes to naming their molecules (maybe after sniffing a little too much solvent?). Take, for example, arsole, a ring shaped molecule that is the arsenic equivalent of pyrrole. Or how about bastardane, cummingtonite, dickite, traumatic acid, fucitol, erotic acid, godnose, diabolic acid, vaginatin, and moronic acid.

In that vein, today's paper is a little older, but it is one that I have always found to be creative, funny, and thought provoking. In 2003, James Tour and Stephanie Chanteau, from Rice University’s Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, published a paper in The Journal of Organic Chemistry where they used their knowledge of chemical synthesis to create the NanoPutians. To get a little more serious, the idea was actually part of the chemistry education program at Rice University aimed at introducing organic chemistry and nanotechnology to young students.

NanoPutians are 2-nm-tall anthropomorphic molecules in monomeric, dimeric, and polymeric form. Put simply, they are people shaped molecules synthesized using a string of chemical reactions. Tour and Chanteau went as far as creating the life cycle of the NanoPution from NanoKid to NanoProfessional. Let's meet the family:

The NanoToddler
This, the smallest of the NanoPutians, has the upper and lower body synthesized separately and then catalyzed by palladium and copper compounds.

The NanoKid
The NanoToddler has grown up a little bit, with longer legs. The NanoKid was chosen as the basic skeletion for the later, professional stages of the NanoPutians. There is also a version of the NanoKid with thiol feet, in protected form, to be used as surface adhesion molecules (not shown here).

The NanoProfessionals
NanoKids grow up to be adults, and adults have a wide array of jobs. When NanoKid is treated with a series of 1,2- or 1,3-diols in the presence of catalytic acid and microwave oven-irradiation the acetal that makes up the head changes. These acetal exchanges give a series of new NanoPutians, termed NanoProfessionals.

The NanoBalletDancer
Some NanoProfessionals are so unique as to warrant special attention. NanoBalletDancers are part of this group. They must be synthesized from scratch rather than from the NanoKid progenitor. The upper and lower body must be synthesized separately and then combined after.

The NanoPutian Family Chain
Finally, the family comes together into an extended hand-holding chain using an AB-polymer.

You can learn more about the NanoPutians and their synthesis by reading the original paper:

ResearchBlogging.orgStephanie H. Chanteau and James M. Tour (2003). Synthesis of Anthropomorphic Molecules:  The NanoPutians. The Journal of Organic Chemistry, 68 (23), 8750-8766 DOI: 10.1021/jo0349227

You can also go over to the Nanokids website for a more educational, kid-friendly look at these anthropogenic molecules.

The Sacred Order of Geeks

The Sacred Order of Geeks

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lab Snuggie

For when a lab coat just isn't enough.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Lionfish of a Problem

Lionfish are beautiful but venomous. Very recently these fish have become quite a large problem in the Caribbean, the fastest invasion documented for a marine fish. The Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois miles and P. volitans) are native to the reefs of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are also very popular aquarium fish. Whether through accidental or purposeful releases in the late 1970’s through the present, lionfish have made their way into the Caribbean. It started out as not-so-bad (as such things do) with only 5 or 6 individuals, but the problem has grown (as such things do) to a self-sustaining population that reaches over 1,000 lionfish per acre in some locations. P volitans seems to have taken up all of the reef real estate south of the Bahamas, while both species can be found north of Florida extending to Bermuda and out in the Sargasso Sea. But what makes lionfish such a problem? Well, mainly their appetite. Lionfish are generalist carnivores with voracious appetites, consuming more than 56 species of fish and many invertebrates. They have evolved to food availability in the Pacific, which may be patchy, and so they eat as much as they can whenever they can. Using this appetite, they have been known to reduce their fish prey by up to 90 percent. They are capable of permanently impacting native fish reef communities across multiple trophic levels. Another problem? They have a very high rate of reproduction. Lionfish become sexually mature at about 7 months to 1 year old and spawn in pairs. Females will release 30,000 eggs every spawning cycle, adding up to about 2 million per year in some cases. These eggs settle out as baby fish in about 30-40 days. Are you doing the math? Because that’s a lot of fish and a really big invasion problem. Today I’m going to take a look at two papers (out of an ever-growing number) that ask why lionfish are successful invaders and which habitats within their invasion zone they flourish.

The first paper looks at why lionfish are successful by comparing Kenyan and Bahamian lionfish populations. This is not an uncommon type of comparison. However, it is seldom studied in marine invaders as a whole, and since marine predatory vertebrate invaders are rare it is even less common in this realm. The idea is relatively simple: Invasive species are not a problem in their home ranges, they are kept in check by other components and members of their ecosystem. Comparing invasive species to their native counterparts can reveal shifts in ecology and behavior and can shed light on the factors contributing to a successful invasion and even some potential control methods. This study tested if lionfish on invaded Caribbean reefs have reached greater abundance than they normally reach on their native reefs, and they tested potential ecological differences by measuring lionfish body size and activity levels between the native and introduced fish. To see if lionfish are in greater abundance and/or size in introduced areas, the researchers conducted underwater visual surveys of lionfish in both their native (Kenya) and introduced (Bahamas) ranges, recording numbers of fish and total length of each fish. During these surveys, they also recorded lionfish behavior as active (i.e., either hunting, swimming, hovering in the water column or moving over the substratum) or inactive (i.e., resting motionless on the substratum).

This study found that invading Bahamian lionfish reached a higher abundance than their ecological equivalent in Kenya. However, it is important to note that when they combined the density of all five Kenyan lionfish species they were similar to Bahamian P. volitans, and that some Bahamian reefs had much greater densities than others. The Bahamian lionfish were also about 50 percent longer and had an overall biomass that was 13 times higher than Kenyan equivalents or the Kenyan lionfish species assemblage. There are several hypotheses as to why including lack of exploitation, low predation, low predator diversity and abundance, low fishing pressure, and a release from congeneric competitors. They are so numerous that they now make up a significant portion of the fish biomass on invaded reefs.

The second paper looks at the progression of lionfish into different habitats. In their native range, P. volitans and P. miles are predominately found on coral, rock, and sand substrates from <1 to 50 meters underwater. Their invasive range has been observed to be much broader, extending into habitats that include reefs, seagrass, mangroves, and in depths from 1 to >600 meters of water. Two previous studies that have looked at this habitat question have found that mangroves supported higher densities of smaller-sized individuals than nearby reefs and that lionfish in seagrass were smaller than those on reefs (both suggesting a nursery function). And while there is an international effort to document the spread of the lionfish, there has been less emphasis placed on how a new location becomes colonized. This study looks the invasion history as well as this colonization. The study area was located around South Caicos (a small island in the Turks and Caicos Islands) and Long Cay (on the eastern edge of the Caicos Bank). Five different marine habitat types were distinguished: mangrove, seagrass, sheltered shallow reef, exposed shallow reef, and deep reef. Using surveys consisting of timed swims, relative density of lionfish (number of individuals seen per observer and per unit effort) was calculated within these habitat types from 2007 to 2010. To look at size frequencies of lionfish within these habitats, individuals were caught and depth, habitat, type of shelter used, and total length were recorded. The age of individuals was estimated from total size.

 They found that by the end of 2010, lionfish had been observed in all five habitats with relative densities consistently rising throughout the course of the study period. Back-calculation of settlement dates indicated that lionfish may have started settling there as early as 2004. Sightings during their surveys initially showed that the density of lionfish in seagrass was 20 times higher than on deep reefs, but as the study went on the relative densities became similar across the habitat types with the concluding year showing the deep reefs to have over an order of magnitude higher lionfish density than any other habitat. There was also a significant difference in the sizes of lionfish caught in different habitats. Lionfish in deep reef habitats were significantly larger than those in seagrass and sheltered reefs, but they found no size differences in individuals from shallow habitats. Individuals found in these shallow habitats were younger than those found on deep reefs. Most of the lionfish were found to shelter on, in, under, or around other structures (corals, rocks, seawalls, trash, etc.). Observations of exposed reef habitats found lionfish to be conspicuously absent until 2010. They were found preferentially (but not exclusively) to settle in shallow habitats (seagrass, sheltered reefs, mangroves) before moving to deeper water once they had grown larger. However, they would have had to pass through these exposed reefs on their way to the deep reefs. The few individuals found on exposed reefs may be a result of this movement combined with the turbulent conditions associated with this habitat type. This evidence supports the idea that seagrass, mangroves, and sheltered shallow reef areas may serve as nursery habitats and adult fish move to deeper reef habitats later.

From all I’ve gone through today, the story looks pretty bleak. And I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t look optimistic. But there is good news. There are several lionfish research programs and international efforts to control or even eradicate these fish from the Caribbean (see some links below). And another bonus? Apparently they taste great!

ResearchBlogging.orgEmily S. Darling, Stephanie J. Green, Jennifer K. O’Leary, & Isabelle M. Coˆte (2011). Indo-Pacific lionfish are larger and more abundant on invaded reefs: a comparison of Kenyan and Bahamian lionfish populations Biological Invasions, 13 (9), 2045-2051.: 10.1007/s10530-011-0020-0
ResearchBlogging.orgJohn Alexander Brightman Claydon, Marta Caterina Calosso, & Sarah Beth Traiger (2012). Progression of invasive lionfish in seagrass,mangrove and reef habitats Marine Ecology Progress Series, 448, 119-129.: 10.3354/meps09534

Here are a couple of  websites to get you started looking in to this problem:
CCFHR: Invasive Lionfish
REEF Lionfish Program
Interview with Chris Flock from Ocean Support Foundation
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